Strategic and holistic approach to European forest policy needed

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Our ThinkForest webinar brought together a diverse audience from science, policy and forest sector stakeholders for a forward-looking discussion on the future of forest policy in Europe.

Forest policy, and a strategic approach to European forests and the forest-based sector offer great potential to address simultaneously many of today’s societal challenges: climate change, biodiversity loss, inequality and prosperity.

However, there are a great number of policies that have influence on forests in the EU, from climate, energy and biodiversity to overarching policies like the Green Deal. “We all agree forests have a major role to play in efforts to move to a more sustainable society and economy. Yet, it is high time that we stop looking at forests only in the context of other policies, but also through the forest specific lenses”, said ThinkForest President Janez Potočnik. “This requires political will and policies. For example, the EU Green Deal needs a strong forest arm to be able to deliver on its ambitions.”

Contributing via video, two former Prime Ministers offered reflections on the transformational nature of policies that would be needed in the future, especially given the current COVID-19 crisis. Felipe González, former Spanish Prime Minister pointed out that “We see nature and the countryside from a very urban perspective”. Moving to a different economic model and a different relationship with nature would require effort, commitment and cost. Göran Persson, former Swedish Prime Minister, also emphasised the need to overcome the rural-urban divide. “You need fruitful cooperation with ordinary people living in the countryside”, he said. “You need to involve those who are able to carry out the most important part of the Green Deal, namely those who are working in our forest, in our agricultural sector.”

According to Eva Müller from the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, it was positive that forests are getting greater attention in political and public debate, underlining the significance of multifunctional forests. She called for the forthcoming EU Forest Strategy to focus on three key objectives: strengthening resilience and the adaptive capacity of forests, maintaining and enhancing forest biodiversity, and promoting and further developing the contribution of forest-based sector to the circular bioeconomy.

Bernhard Wolfslehner from the EFI Forest Policy Research Network introduced the recent EFI study on European forest governance post-2020. He pointed out what we have learned from other sectors, for example agriculture, water and energy policies. “Sustained political commitments and leadership are needed to advance policy integration or the adoption of new instruments”, he said. Defining joint topics on forests might be key to fostering forest policy integration – and here the Green Deal might be a strong trigger.

Eeva Primmer from the Finnish Environment Institute emphasised the multifunctionality of forests, and also the timescale and evolution of forests and forest policy. “I would urge us to take leadership in sustainable forest management, take functioning ecosystems to the centre stage, highlight the long-term orientation of forests and engage society”, she said.

Summing up, Janez Potočnik stated “We need a more strategic approach to European forests, forestry and forest-based solutions. We need this, still missing, part of the implementation of EU Green Deal, and we need it quite urgently."

More information 

The ThinkForest webinar European Forest Policy Post-2020 was held on 22 September.

View the programme and speakers

Download the study on European Forest Governance Post-2020

Watch the video from Göran Persson and Felipe González

The recording of the webinar is available our YouTube channel.